How to Maintain a Healthy Relationship After Childhood Abuse

How to Maintain a Healthy Relationship After Abuse | Hopeful Panda

Maintaining a healthy relationship after childhood abuse is one of the many struggles those of us raised by abusive parents have.

There is no doubt that childhood abuse or trauma can create issues in our adult relationships. Our relationship with our parents set the standards for what we unconsciously believe is “normal” or what we think we deserve.

And how we were treated undoubtedly led to our low self-esteem and sense of self-worth as well as abandonment and attachment issues.

As research suggests, many children of abusive parents end up in toxic or abusive relationships as adults.

However, that’s not the only issue. Even when you’re in a relationship with someone who genuinely loves and cares about you, the effects of the abuse you experienced and your past will still return to haunt you and cause problems in your relationship.

And that is what this post will be about – how to maintain a healthy romantic relationship with someone after experiencing childhood abuse or trauma. I also recommend checking out this post to get a better understanding of what a healthy relationship looks like.

My Experiences in Maintaining A Healthy Relationship After Abuse

I’m very lucky to have met an understanding, supportive, and caring partner who fully accepts me for who I am. If I haven’t met him, I can see myself being trapped in a toxic relationship.

Although I was very lucky to meet my partner, it took a lot of work – as individuals and as a couple – to make it to where we are today. My mental health issues, insecurities, fear of abandonment, and tendency to self-sabotage that resulted from my own abuse threatened our relationship a few times.

Navigating our first-ever romantic relationship and having it be long-distance was ROUGH. But… we put in the effort, time, and money to make it work. It wasn’t easy. It took a LOT of communication, compromises, and compassion. And now here we are, six years later, committed to spending the rest of our lives together.

Maintaining a Healthy Relationship After Childhood Abuse

I’m not going to sugarcoat this – relationships are A LOT of work, especially a healthy, functional one. It’s nothing like what they show in romance novels and movies where it’s just sunshine and butterflies.

But the thing is, a healthy relationship is worth the work.

When you’ve spent your childhood feeling constantly unloved and unwanted, a relationship with someone who genuinely loves you for who you are – trauma and all – is truly life-changing and beautiful.

However, there are no doubts that demons from our past will come up threatening to sabotage what we have going for us.

Sometimes, it’s us who are trying to self-sabotage because we have trouble accepting that good things can happen to us. But the truth is, good things can and do happen. And sometimes, it’s up to us to keep it going for as long as we can.

Be on the same page

First things first, are you and your partner on the same page in terms of the relationship?

For example, are you exclusive or not? Is the relationship a serious, committed one? Do you both share the same relationship goals for the most part?

If you’re not exactly on the same page, what can you do to get there? How important is this relationship to you? What compromises do you need to make? What needs to change? Is it something you can work out or is it a dealbreaker?

If one person is fully committed to a relationship while the other one isn’t, then it’s already off to a rocky start. But when both people are committed and willing to put in the effort to make it work, it increases the chance of the relationship actually working.

Communicate, communicate, communicate!

Yes, the same old “communication is key”. But communication really is crucial in maintaining a healthy relationship after abuse, especially when you’re prone to ruminating.

When you’ve been raised by abusive parents, you’re likely stuck with all these “lies” in your head. You might think you’re ugly, not good enough, unlovable, or unwanted. And all of this negative self-talk might cloud your mind and cause you to shut your partner out.

Being able to communicate with your partner is so important in maintaining a healthy relationship. A lot of relationships fail because of a lack of communication. One key element that helped my relationship is how much we communicated because we had to due to the distance.

And remember, it takes both to effectively communicate. Speak up but also listen.

Be open and honest with your feelings, especially regarding your partner and the relationship. If you don’t like something, say it. If your needs aren’t being met, voice it. Have a question or concern? Ask it. Try not to suppress anything because it’ll just lead to resentment and other issues.

At the same time, it’s also important that you take your partner’s perspective into account as well. Try to understand it from their point of view. Listen to their worries, concerns, desires, and needs, too.

Both your and your partner’s feelings and concerns are valid.

Don’t avoid arguments just to keep the peace

Did you have parents who constantly argued? Did that somehow send you the message that arguments are bad?

Constant arguing and disagreements with no resolution are unhealthy. But that doesn’t mean arguing itself is a bad thing.

Arguments and disagreements are inevitable. Just because there is some conflict in your relationship from time to time doesn’t mean it’s doomed to fail or that it’s unhealthy.

When problems arise, don’t be afraid to bring them up, discuss them, and make the necessary changes and compromises with your partner to resolve them. It’s better to have an honest argument than to never argue to keep the peace.

Because of your past, you may tend to catastrophize or shut down in the event of a conflict with your partner. You may think “Oh no, this is it. It’s over.” or “We don’t belong together”.

When your mind is in that place, give yourself a moment to take a breather and work through your feelings first.

Once you’ve got a clearer head, work together with your partner to resolve the conflict. Come to a compromise or agree to disagree. Always find time to work through your disagreements, arguments, and feelings with your partner. Never leave a conflict unresolved.

Unresolved conflict leads to negative pent-up feelings that accumulate over time. Not only does that hurt the relationship, but could lead to its eventual end if it continues.

Be accountable and objective

Just because we were actual victims of abuse doesn’t mean we don’t play the victim sometimes. It’s also easy to pick up some of our parent’s toxic behaviors without being aware of them.

A fight with your partner can bring out some of your own hidden toxicity. You may unknowingly try to guilt-trip, play the victim, or shift blame.

It’s understandable since you possibly learned that from your parents growing up. But now as an adult, try to remain accountable. Recognize the role you played that might’ve contributed to the conflict.

And at the same time, realize that being accountable does not mean taking fault for everything. You may try to blame everything on yourself because that’s what you were used to growing up. But you don’t have to take all the blame if it is not 100% your fault.

Just as being overly defensive or manipulative to avoid any accountability doesn’t help the relationship, blaming everything on yourself won’t help either.

Do your best to remain objective. See the role you and your partner played. Try to see how you both could’ve done better. Then, try to work through your feelings and thoughts together.

Establish and respect each other’s boundaries

If you had an abusive upbringing, you might not know how to properly set healthy boundaries. Or maybe you didn’t even have any.

Maintaining a healthy relationship means setting some boundaries. Discuss what’s okay and what’s not. Think about what you are or aren’t comfortable with. What’s acceptable and what isn’t? Is there a line you or your partner can’t cross?

Boundaries can be established at any point in the relationship. As the relationship continues, you and your partner will continue to learn about one another. You also learn about what you’re comfortable with and what you’re not.

And just as you’d expect your partner to respect your boundaries, you should also respect theirs.

Maintain and respect each other’s individualities

When you’re in a serious relationship, “my life” becomes “our life”. But that doesn’t mean you have to do everything together.

To be able to maintain a healthy relationship after abuse, it’s important that you recognize yourself and your partner as separate individuals who also come together as a team.

When you grew up feeling rejected, unwanted, and unloved, you’ll likely want to cling to your partner who’s showing you the love and care you missed out on. While spending time together is important, spending time apart is important, too.

One of the effects of having abusive parents is that we may end up too dependent or codependent in our adult relationships. So we need to remember to maintain our individuality.

Your world doesn’t revolve around your partner. You and your partner should be okay with the other spending time with other people or devoting time to their hobbies and interests. Recognize that you have both shared interests as a couple and individual interests as a person.

Check-in with each other

Sometimes, life gets in the way. We might get so caught up with the daily hassles and responsibilities that we forget to check in with ourselves and our partners.

Ask “how are you” to each other and mean it. And answer honestly, too.

When you’re in a relationship, “how are you” isn’t pleasantry. It’s genuine checking in to see how the other person is doing.

You can use this opportunity to talk about your day, how you feel, and why you feel that way. You can also use this time to update each other on your life and endeavors if relevant.

Not only is checking in beneficial for your relationship because you’re caring for your partner, but it’s also an opportunity for you to self-reflect and practice a little self-care.

Take care of yourself

As mentioned before, you are an individual. It’s your job to take care of yourself and meet your own needs, not have your partner do it for you. They can do it if they want – in healthy doses – but it shouldn’t be an obligation.

Besides, you can’t expect your partner to meet your every need. They are not your parent and you are no longer a child. Your partner cannot replace the parental love you missed out on growing up. But you can do it for yourself.

What your partner can do is offer support, encouragement, validation, and compassion as you go through your healing process. But in the end, this is your healing process. What you decide to do is ultimately up to you. No one can do it for you.

Trust your partner

It can be hard to trust others, especially when you experienced years of abuse from the people meant to protect and care for you. But trust is crucial for any healthy relationship to work, especially after abuse.

If your partner hasn’t done anything to warrant your distrust, then try to trust them. Don’t punish them for something your past abusers did.

If there’s something about your partner that reminds you of an abusive parent or ex, let them know. This is something they are likely not aware of. They will likely respect you and try to change that behavior. And when they do, it’ll show you that you can feel secure with them, that you can trust them.

You may also struggle with jealousy and insecurity and your upbringing undoubtedly contributed to that. Maybe you’re worried your partner will find someone better than you. Maybe you’re worried you’re not good enough and they’ll leave you at some point.

But remind yourself this: Your partner is with YOU right now. They chose YOU. If you think they deserve someone better, then try to be that better someone. But know that YOU are enough for them. Your partner knows about your flaws and insecurities and they are still with you.

Remind yourself that your perception of yourself is tinted by years of abuse. It’s not an objective view of who you are. You don’t see all the good that is in you. On the other hand, your partner likely sees a more real you than you do. They see someone worth going through the effort to be with.

Remember that your partner is human, too

With years of abuse, we may tend to see ourselves in such a negative light that we don’t think we deserve good things.

When I first met my partner, I put him on a pedestal. To me, he was perfect, someone I can never measure up to. I kept thinking I didn’t deserve him or worried he’ll leave me once he finds someone better.

When we feel so damaged and hurt, we think we’re broken beyond repair. Our sense of self-worth is so damaged that anything even somewhat decent happening to us is such a miracle. And there are issues with feeling this way.

When we think our partner is perfect, we forget that they’re also human just like us.

We may get so caught up in our own problems and wounds that we forget they have their problems and wounds, too. They have painful feelings and experiences, too. And we need to remember that their feelings and experiences are just as valid as ours.

Reassure and support each other

You may think you have more “baggage” and “needs” than your partner, and maybe that’s true. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have needs.

So while you should make sure that you and your partner take care of you, it’s also important that you both take care of them, too.

Maybe you need a little more support than they do. But you have to remember to support them as well.

Being in a relationship means that you are a team. Maintaining a healthy relationship means working together and supporting each other.

Keep your expectations realistic

Movies and TV shows oftentimes have an unrealistic view of how relationships should be. They have us believe that soulmates exist or that “happily ever after” is possible. But real life isn’t a fairytale.

Relationships take work, compromises, and understanding.

Sure, there are times when you’ll be floating on cloud nine, living in what appears to be a fantasy. But realize that it will eventually end and that’s totally okay. What’s important is that you feel comfortable and content with your partner despite the ups and downs.

Honeymoon phases, lust, and passion seem nice. And you can bring it back once in a while. But it’s not realistic and not healthy to always be in it.

Acknowledge that there will be bad days, arguments, conflicts, and disagreements. But at the same time, don’t only expect that, because that’s harmful, too.

The bottom line is to be realistic. There will be both ups and downs in relationships. As long as the good outweighs the bad, then everything should be okay.

Believe in your relationship

One of the keys to maintaining a healthy relationship is to believe in that relationship.

Doubts are easy to come by. If you let your doubts and insecurities get the better of you, they will. Constantly telling yourself the relationship will fail will make it fail. It can be those doubts and insecurities that end up pushing your partner away and hurting the relationship.

I know you can’t ignore your worries. But you can work on them. Again, communicate with your partner. Talk about your worries, doubts, and insecurities. Reassure each other.

As long as you and your partner want the relationship to work, and you’re willing to work for it, it’ll make the relationship stronger.

As long as you’re willing to work on yourself and the relationship, you and the relationship will come out stronger. It won’t be easy. At all. But believe in yourself, the relationship, and your partner who – by the way – chose you.

Maintaining a Healthy Relationship After Abuse | Hopeful Panda

Maintaining a healthy relationship after abuse requires a lot of work. But in the end, it’s worth it.

You might think you don’t deserve a relationship because you’re damaged goods. But that can’t be further from the truth. You deserve to be in a loving, healthy relationship. You deserve to be with someone who accepts and loves you for who you are.

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Hi there, I’m Estee. Having grown up with an abusive mother, I know how isolating, frustrating, and hopeless everything could feel – back then as a child and even now as an adult.

I am always trying to better understand and manage the effects of the abuse I experienced. And this journey I’m on inspired me to create Hopeful Panda. Learn more here.

A lot of time and effort is put into this blog. If you enjoy my content or find it helpful, please consider making a donation or becoming a member. Your support helps me continue providing free content for all. Thank you!

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